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THE SITUATION ROOM

White House Task Force Gets Proposed Guidelines On Reducing Restrictions; Interview With Mayor Francis Suarez (R), Miami, FL On Steps On Limiting Coronavirus Spread; U.S. Deaths Rise To 2,300-Plus And Confirmed Cases Over 133,000; CA State Parks Closed To Vehicle Access After "Visitation Surge"; Illinois Governor Wants To Increase Testing Capacity To 10K A Day; Chicago's United Center Hosting Personal Protective Equipment Drive; Senator Amy Klobuchar's Husband Tests Positive; Latin America Seeing Sharp Spike In Coronavirus Cases; Making A Difference On The Frontlines Of The Coronavirus Pandemic; WH Task Force Updates Coronavirus Response. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 29, 2020 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:01]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a sobering warning from the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, telling CNN that the coronavirus could infect millions of people here in the United States, potentially taking the lives of hundreds of thousands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Looking at what we're seeing now, you know, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000 cases, but I don't want to be held to that, because it's -- excuse me, deaths. I mean, we're going to have millions of cases, but I just don't think that we really need to make a projection when it's such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people.

What we do no, Jake, is that we've got a serious problem in New York. We have a serious problem in New Orleans, and we're going to be developing serious problems in other areas. So although people like to model it, let's just look at the data of what we have and not worry about these worst-case and best-case scenarios.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The number of confirmed cases right now in the United States is over 130,000, with over 2300 people dead. In New York, the epicenter of America's outbreak, health care workers may soon be dealing with crippling shortages. Mayor Bill de Blasio saying today the hospitals only have enough medical supplies to last through the week. Meanwhile, the White House is reviewing new proposals that could lead

to reopening some parts of the country, though it's unclear when they may go into effect. But the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is railing against the administration, saying today that their slow response to this outbreak was a deadly mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying that his downplaying ultimately cost American lives?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yes, I am. I'm saying that, because when he made -- the other day when he was signing the bill, he said, just think, 20 days ago, everything was great. No, everything wasn't great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The White House Coronavirus Task Force is set to hold a press briefing right in the next hour. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is on the scene for us.

Jeremy, so what kind of guideline proposals is the White House looking at?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we are just days away from the end of those 15-day guidelines, those social distancing guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. And we know that the president has been eager to look for ways to start reopening the economy in the United States.

We're now told, Wolf, that the president and his task force are beginning to review some proposals from federal health experts that could allow certain parts of the countries with lower infection rates to begin reopening some schools, some businesses. If, indeed, those rates are low and if indeed those certain parts of the country hit certain indicators, for example, two weeks without a rise, an increase in the number of cases and deaths.

But these are proposals that are still being worked on by the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, something that they are still reviewing. Earlier this morning, Wolf, we did hear from the Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the leading public health experts in this fight, and he talked about the fact that you need to get eyeballs in certain areas before you can begin to consider relaxing those restrictions.

He said that he is ultimately in favor of a more targeted approach, that could allow certain regions of the country to begin to open up, but he said the most important thing is you need to have the testing in place in those parts of the country, so you can actually see the situation. And, of course, all of this, Wolf, is coming as the United States is seeing the number of coronavirus deaths doubling in just the past two days.

BLITZER: Yes. So scary indeed.

The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin meanwhile is saying that Americans could begin seeing money from that $2 trillion stimulus package in just three weeks. What are you learning about that, Jeremy?

DIAMOND: That's right. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin telling reporters this morning that he believes it will take about three weeks for Americans to begin seeing those checks that were part of that massive $1 trillion stimulus package. Of course, that would be $1200 to individuals, $2400 to couples earning less than $75,000. And those payments, of course, will phase out once you reach $99,000 in income per year.

But Mnuchin didn't just have a message about that. He was also urging many of those small businesses who have perhaps laid off employees in recent weeks. Last week, of course, we know that over than three million Americans filed for unemployment claims. The Treasury secretary urging those small businesses to rehire some of those workers so that they can benefit from this stimulus package -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thanks very much. We'll get back to you, obviously, during the course of the next few hours. Right now, I want to bring in the former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. He served during the Obama administration.

Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us once again. What do you make of the White House receiving new guidelines that potentially could relax some of the social distancing restrictions?

[16:05:03]

In your estimation, would it be too early in this outbreak to start allowing some schools and businesses to reopen?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, I think everybody is experiencing the pain of what the country is going through in terms of their lives being completely overturned. Kids can't go to school, people can't go to work. This is extremely hard for people and everybody wants to see it come to an end as quickly as possible.

What's really important, though, is we have to do this responsibly. To say that we're going to open up in the next few days or the next few weeks is frankly not consistent with science. It's inaccurate. What we need to do in order to open up is we need to see several things in place. Number one, we have to see the number of new cases significantly declining. And now we're seeing an acceleration.

We need to have broad-based testing available, and in an efficient manner which we still don't have. And we need the ability to contact trace and quarantine people anywhere in the country where new cases arise. We don't fully have that capability either, so until these are met, you should really should not see an opening up or easing of the restrictions.

In fact, Wolf, what we really need right now is a national stay-at- home order. We've needed this for a long time. We are suffering because we still don't have it and seeing spread that is not being contained in many parts of the country. In this moment, in moments like this, Wolf, speed equals lives saved.

We haven't moved fast enough in the past, but we have an opportunity to change that. We need a national stay-at-home order right now.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a man you used to work with, you know, I know him, we all admire him. He said to our own Jake Tapper today that potentially, potentially, we could see millions of coronavirus cases here in the United States and hundreds of thousands potentially deaths. Do you believe that's a realistic possibility?

MURTHY: Well, not only is it a realistic possibility -- many, many weeks now. For well over a month, almost two months. So to most people in the public health field, these numbers were not startling, coming out of Tony Fauci. In fact, people have been raising the alarm on this for quite some time now, trying to get the government to act more aggressively. Trying to get states, as well, to institute restrictions.

You know, if you don't have aggressive and widespread testing, if you don't have the ability to contact trace and isolate, the only thing you have really in your quiver, in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, is social distancing. It's getting people to stay home. That's why there's been such an emphasis on that point.

But this is also why we're going to see cases dramatically increase, even more so than they have in the last few days, over the coming weeks. And what we need in our hospitals all across the country are the materials to protect our health care workers. We still don't have that. We hear in Louisiana is going to run out of ventilators in a few days. They're running out of personal protective equipment. New York is running out of personal protective equipment.

It's the job of the government, the federal government in moments like this to coordinate the procurement, because right now it's not happening nearly as quickly as it needs to do.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of the focus right now is on New York, understandably so, that's the epicenter, but what other hot spots are you worried about? I know you're in Miami, for example. What are the concerns down in Florida, specifically in south Florida, in Miami?

MURTHY: Well, I'm worried about Miami. Miami is a place where we've seen a growing number of cases. And I don't think we're testing nearly as efficiently as we need to be here. My own family members are doctors here. They're having a hard time still getting people tested and getting results back quickly. But we're also in other parts of Florida, seeing restrictions or lack of restrictions that are deeply concerning to me.

We have places in Tampa, Florida, for example, where the local government still has not issued stay-at-home orders and we have people going to work and getting together socially and enabling the spread of this virus. Florida has thousands of cases now, and that's even without adequate testing. So I'm worried about Florida, I'm worried about Louisiana, I'm worried deeply about Chicago. And there are more places around the country that we are starting to

see, you know, cases balloon in. Again this is without adequate testing. California, I'm deeply worried about because there's a backlog of testing there. So I think the numbers are artificially depressed.

Here's a thing. If you don't have the testing to look, you're not going to see what's fully happening in the country. That's why people like Tony Fauci and others have been so emphatic at saying that we have to almost behave as if everyone around us is infected. We have to take these measures seriously. And they have to be expansive around the country. That's why stay-at-home now is a provision that should be enforced and implemented across our nation.

BLITZER: So what do you say, Dr. Murthy, to those Americans who live in parts of the country where there have been really a very, very small, tiny number of coronavirus cases?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, I know if you're looking around you and you don't see anybody who's sick, you might think, is this all premature? Are we overreacting to the situation?

[16:10:01]

But a fortunate situation for us, Wolf, is that we have the benefit of being able to learn from other countries that have gone before us in experiencing this virus. And what they have taught us is that there is a lag between when people are exposed to the virus and when they contract it, to when they actually develop symptoms. That can be, on average, five days, but could be as much as two weeks.

So if you're not seeing people sick around you now, that does not mean they're going to be sick in a couple of weeks. That was actually what has been happening around the country, where people have said, you know, especially local government, people have said, well, you know, it doesn't seem like there's a problem now. When there's a problem, then we'll institute measures. That's the exact wrong solution in a case like this.

To solve a public health crisis, you need to be ahead of the puck, so to speak. You need to know where it's going and then adjust for that scenario. The failure to do that means that you're going to be constantly playing catch-up. And unfortunately, that's a situation we find ourselves in today. But we can correct that. We can ramp up production of testing and personal protective equipment.

We can get a national stay-at-home order to at least flatten the curve and reduce the peak of infections. And we can invest in public health so we can contact trace and so that we can ultimately quarantine the people who need to. That would be the time to put in a tailored strategy and to remove restrictions, but not right now.

BLITZER: All excellent, excellent points, indeed. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Still to come, the state of Florida now setting up checkpoints at the borders. There travelers should be expected to be stopped and screened. The mayor of Miami standing by to join us next. There you see him.

Plus, I'll speak with Senator Amy Klobuchar live. Her husband is now recovering, he's back home after being diagnosed and hospitalized with coronavirus.

Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[16:15:54]

BLITZER: Florida is now joining the growing list of states setting up highway checkpoints in an attempt to stop the coronavirus from spreading. The state's governor, Ron DeSantis, is also requiring travelers from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to isolate for a period of 14 days. Failure to do so, potentially, could result in jail time.

Joining us now is the Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on over there. First, I want to ask you how you're feeling because we all know you tested positive for coronavirus some two weeks ago. What's it been like and how are you feeling now?

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FL: It's been -- I've been here for 17 days. I just got back the results today from my latest tests, which just for the first time tested negative. I've been very fortunate to be relatively asymptomatic throughout. I never got any fever, never got even a sore throat. So in some ways, I'm very lucky, but in other ways, I'm a reminder that people who that asymptomatic can be carriers of COVID-19 and can spread it.

And we've seen that there's a wild variation, a wild variety of the way that COVID-19 affects people. Obviously, some that are asymptomatic, but we've had three deaths already here in Miami-Dade County, including one that was a 40-year-old, just a few years younger than I am.

BLITZER: So when do you think you'll be able to leave the house and go back to work, now that you've fortunately, and we're all happy to hear, finally tested negative?

SUAREZ: Well, I'm actually working pretty hard every single day from home, but if I test negative a second time, according to the CDC's most conservative protocol, then I can be released. So I'm hoping to find out, hopefully tomorrow, if I test negative a second time, and then I'll be able to finally hug my wife and my two kids for the first time in over two weeks. I sorely miss them.

BLITZER: I can only imagine what you've been going through. When you say you were asymptomatic, Mayor, what does that mean? And why are you even -- why do you even get tested if you had no symptoms? SUAREZ: Remember that I got tested over two weeks ago, which seems

like an eternity with regard to this virus, this viral infection. I was tested because I was in a room with someone who tested positive from Brazilian delegation led by the president of Brazil that was visiting Miami Monday and Tuesday over a couple of weeks ago.

I was a picture just a few feet with him, most likely shook his hand and most likely had a conversation at a very close distant with the press secretary of the president. And so once that happened, I was immediately quarantined. The Department of Health, the Florida Department of Health asked me to come in and get tested, and I was actually only the second person to test positive in Miami-Dade County, which is a county of close to three million people.

BLITZER: It's amazing what happened, you know, you're very fortunate that you've apparently gotten through all this. Let me ask you about these new checkpoints in Florida. What guidance, if any, have you gotten from health officials that screening methods like this one potentially will stop the spread of the virus in Florida, specifically in Miami?

SUAREZ: One of the biggest concerns that I have as mayor is that we have an airport where 50 million people come in. So the big issue now is, since we do have a stay-at-home order, and I was a second city in Dade County to issue a stay-at-home order, first city to issue a curfew, since we do have the city essentially locked down, the concern is travel. And so whether it's checkpoints at the border, whether it's quarantining out-of-town travelers from hot spots, or whether it's having better regulations at our airport, that is the big concern that we have.

We don't -- we're very sympathetic with what's happening in New York and our heart goes out to them and we hope that they're able to flatten the curve as quickly as possible. But we don't want to become a hot spot ourselves. And so the biggest threat that we have right now, the biggest vulnerability is from people who are traveling in who may be infecting people here.

BLITZER: Because we know a lot of New Yorkers, they come down in Miami a lot, for excellent reasons. And you've got a beautiful city over there.

Very quickly, before I let you go, what is the situation in Miami right now?

[16:20:02]

SUAREZ: We have the most cases in the state of Florida. We just -- our county just went over a thousand cases. We had our first tragic few deaths over the last 48 hours. So we are prepared. We're building temporary hospitals. We have, you know, in our hospital system, about 2,000 ventilators, which is more than half the country of Italy.

But, you know, of course, we're concerned about our first responders, our medical professionals, our nurses and our doctors, and our hospital system, that if the outbreak gets more severe, that at some point, our system is going to be stressed.

BLITZER: Mayor Suarez, good luck to you. Good luck with your health, good luck with everybody in Miami. As I said, it's a great, great city. We appreciate your joining us very much.

SUAREZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, cities across the United States are bracing for what the upcoming week could bring. We're going to go live to New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, get a complete wrap-up of what's going on right now. And unfortunately, there's a lot going on right now and it's not necessarily good. We'll be right back.

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[16:25:37]

BLITZER: States are finding new ways to grapple with this growing coronavirus pandemic. President Trump has now approved disaster declarations for 20 states, freeing up federal funds to fight the virus. CNN is covering all the angles and locations across the country. Let's start with Evan McMorris-Santoro, he's in New York City for us.

Evan, officials there I understand are planning to set up more makeshift hospitals?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I'm at the Aqueduct Complex in Queens. Usually, it's home to a racetrack, a horse racing track and a casino. For the next little while, it will host another thousand-bed temporary hospital designed to alleviate the existing hospital system, as officials here prepare for what they're saying could be the apex of the coronavirus pandemic in the New York area.

So the plan is to use hospitals like this one, and there are three other ones in other outer boroughs, to move patients who don't have coronavirus out of the hospital system and free those places up. This state remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. More than 59,000 cases confirmed and we learned today more than 900 dead so far.

BLITZER: Evan McMorris-Santoro, all right, be careful over there. We'll get back in touch with you.

This just into CNN. Louisiana now reporting more than 3500 cases of coronavirus, making it the third leading state right now with the most cases and it's second in deaths with 151. A New Orleans official says that the Mardi Gras celebrations most likely contributed to the spread of coronavirus there. This as the city rushes to turn its convention center into a hospital amid a spike in cases.

Ed Lavandera is in New Orleans for us.

So, Ed, what else can you tell us? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, right now, the

governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, and the mayor of New Orleans, are holding a briefing. They just finished touring the makeshift hospital that has been set up inside here of the New Orleans Convention Center. Several hundred beds already in place. The governor says that by this time next weekend, they will have a thousand beds available.

This would be for patient who don't necessarily require ventilators or intensive care treatment. And this is to alleviate the pressure that is coming here in the days and weeks ahead for this city. The sliver of good news is that the number of new cases that were added to the total cases here in Louisiana didn't jump as high as we've seen for most of this past week, but the governor here says that we are still seeing a trajectory that is very troubling here in the coming days. So this one day of perhaps a lesser number of cases could be an outlier. There is still a great deal of concern.

The governor here has said that by the end of this coming week, they could be running out of hospital beds and ventilators across the state. The governor has requested some 12,000 ventilators, but so far hasn't even received nearly 200 of those. So right now the governor and the mayor here in New Orleans continue their briefing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really a desperate situation right now.

Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

Out west, the state of California has moved to shut down vehicle access to all 280 of its state parks after a spike in attendance made proper social distancing measures clearly impossible.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us now from Los Angeles, where a U.S. Navy hospital ship is preparing to take the pressure off of the local hospitals.

What more, Paul, can you tell us?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The hospital ship, Mercy, Wolf, is ready to take in those patients. They're in communications with the hospitals, and of course, these are non-COVID- 19 patients. And no one is being allowed to disembark from this vessel.

Also, the city of Los Angeles Fire Department now jumping in, because testing has been a problem. The city of Los Angeles Fire Department will put on these tests, mostly for first responders, but also for anybody who seems to be vulnerable. They already tested thousands of people.

And then as you look behind me, you were talking about this social distancing. On a breezy March day, this boardwalk would be jammed with people, but in these measures, you talked about state parks, well, throughout Los Angeles, we're seeing a ban, nobody can go to the beach, nobody can hit the hiking trail and nobody can go to a boardwalk like the one behind me -- Wolf. [16:30:00]

BLITZER: And we're also grateful to the men and women aboard the Mercy out in Los Angeles, the Comfort on its way to New York City right now. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker says he wants his state to ramp up testing capacity to process some 10,000 coronavirus tests per day. CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us now from the United Center in Chicago. Omar, what's being done there to address the dire shortage of critically needed medical supplies?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, we just heard from Governor J.B. Pritzker a little earlier, who announced 1,100 new cases and 18 more deaths, the deadliest day we have seen yet here in the state of Illinois. And part of keeping up with the number of cases is making sure health care providers have the medical supplies that they need.

So, what we have seen throughout the day today is set up right outside the United Center, despite the lack of cars at the moment. Cars have been coming up and literally dropping off various personal protective equipment they might have had on them. That's masks, gloves, and more that then they will be distributed to health care providers across the state of Illinois. It is part of an effort at all levels we've seen to make sure that health care providers have what they need again to keep up with the number of cases.

And this scene is going to be the beginning of a new reality for the United Center here, which usually this time of year it would be hosting "Bulls" and "Blackhawks" games. Well, they are set to become a logistics hub for the city of Chicago, organizing supplies like these, food distribution, and even serving as a staging area for first responders, as well. And we have seen why this is so important. The cases rises daily and 65 deaths, including of an infant less than a year old, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe. A little more than a month ago, Omar, you and I, we're there at the United Center watching the "NBA All- Star" game and all of a sudden the United Center is doing something very different right now.

Omar, thanks very much, and thanks to all of our reporters out there. We're going to check back with all of them.

Meanwhile, for some members of congress, the coronavirus fight is very, very personal. That includes Senator Amy Klobuchar, whose husband is currently recovering from the virus. She'll join us live. That's right here. There she is. You see her. We have lots to discuss when this special edition of "The Situation Room" continues.

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[16:36:16]

BLITZER: The coronavirus outbreak has shown all of us that no one, no one is immune from this dangerous virus. So far, four members of congress have tested positive, as has one member of the U.S. senate. Family members of the nation's lawmakers are also battling the coronavirus.

Amy Klobuchar is a Democratic Senator from Minnesota, former Democratic presidential candidate. She's joining us now. Her husband, John, has tested positive for coronavirus. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. I know you and your family have a lot going on. Let's talk a little bit about what's going on in your family. First of all, how is John doing?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Well, he's doing better. He was in the hospital. He got very dangerously low oxygen levels. He had pneumonia. He was coughing up blood. And he took a turn after about four or five days. And he had a temperature over 100 degrees, very different than I was so happy to hear about the mayor in Miami. But my husband is only 52 and healthy, as you know. And that was what happened to him.

And so now, he's in our apartment in D.C. They haven't given the clear yet because he's still coughing. So, they're going to decide when he's not contagious. So, I'm actually bunking it in my colleague's apartment, Senator Smith of Minnesota. I just ate her last frozen burrito today. So, you know, it is what it is.

But I think the thing that we learned from this; one, anyone could get it. Two, my husband did the right thing when he thought he had a cold. He stayed inside the apartment so he didn't give the bug to anyone else. But three, the hardest thing is this is such a lonely disease. And some people have it so much worse than we did. But the one thing we have in common is you can't go see your loved one. You can't hold their hand. You can't give a hug to their health care providers who are there every day. All you can do is talk to them on the phone.

And I think it's something that we'll deal with -- everyone will, as it goes on. I think every single person in America is going to have a friend or a family member who they want to reach out to and we all know that they can't, including in assisted living with our seniors, because they can just spread the disease.

BLITZER: You know, it's so awful and painful and heartbreaking to hear this. So, here he is in the hospital. He's suffering pneumonia, coughing up blood, high temperature, and you can't even go visit him. Members of your family can't even go visit him. And when he's finally released, he's allowed to go back to his apartment but you can't even go see him there.

KLOBUCHAR: No. Well, I waved through the window and we're going to do like -- some with our daughter, we're going to do some kind of Skype dinner tonight where we all eat our own thing.

But, you know what, again, I am so thankful for the health care providers and so many other stories, as you know, from the death toll in New York, what we've seen in New Orleans, what's happening all over this country right now, is that some outcomes are much, much worse, and much more tragic. So, I think the lesson from all of this is as hard as the rules are, and as difficult as it is to follow the rules, to not have big gatherings, to appreciate the work our health care workers are doing. And yes, as the governor of Illinois just called for, to get more tests. And that's my personal obsession from a policy standpoint, and it was actually before my husband got sick. Because I know that Mayo Clinic in my state is very close and we've had some hiccups with the approvals.

And I've been working with them on this to get approval from the FDA for them to be able to test, not just do you have it now, but have you had it before, and do you have antibodies, so that you can maybe give your blood to other people and then go out into the world yourself.

That is going to be so key for people's health and for bringing our economy back. And then, of course, getting the regular swab tests out there to people who don't know if they have it or not, that would make such a difference right now.

[16:40:10]

BLITZER: You mentioned the mayo clinic. It's one of the greatest hospitals not only in the United States but in the world. What are the experts there telling you about all of this? What needs to be done right now?

KLOBUCHAR: They want to get more tests out, and they have that ability to scale up, as do many other clinics and hospitals in this country.

So, one of the things, as we've seen in these recent reports, we lost precious time while the epidemic in China was spreading in terms of getting tests approved in the U.S. That decision to just have the Center for Disease Control have their own tests turned out to have lost precious time. And now, we are making up for it or the administration is. But I'm sure there's going to be plenty of time to look back at this and re-litigate. But sadly, we lost time.

Now, luckily, all of these scientists and people around the world are coming up with more tests. We got to get those tests out there, and of course, the ultimate goal, to get a vaccine.

BLITZER: Your family has obviously just gone through a lot with John. And fortunately, he's out of the hospital. And by the way, has he now tested negative? Has he gotten another coronavirus test and finally tested negative?

KLOBUCHAR: No, not yet. And we're just waiting for the doctors to give a go ahead, because he really had a high temperature for a long time, and he's still coughing and has -- he's short of breath, which is a common thing when you've had pneumonia, as -- like he did. So, people are dropping things off. And he's been eating some homemade meals and all kinds of things going on. So, you know, we're doing everything that we can.

BLITZKER: So, what are the major lessons that you've learned? You're not just a wife and a mother, but you're also a United States senator right now. So, as we look at what you've gone through, what are the major lessons? Because we're about to hear later from the president and his coronavirus task force briefing, and there's word that he may be relaxing some of the social distancing measures that have been in place. You think that would be wise?

KLOBUCHAR: I listen to the scientists. And when many of his own advisers and people all over the country are saying, look, deaths are on the rise right now. More people are getting sick. Yes, there'll be a time where we figure out, can we bring back certain industries? And do people have immunities? That's when we do this.

We don't want to have more people die. People are not expendable, not your own family members, not your own grandparents. And so, that's why we have to be really careful. And one of the lessons I learned from this was listen to the doctors and listen to science.

I mean, my husband, his temperature was so high. I kept calling and that I called the doctor and they'd say, yes, he better come in now. We listen to them because he was saying, oh, I think I'm going to be okay and he wasn't at all.

So, people have to listen to science including the president. And the worst thing you can do is give people false hope and then send them back and then everyone starts getting sick again. We've learned this from countries all over the world. One country thinks they have it under control, then it comes back. So, we want to do this in a methodical way.

The beginning of this was completely screwed up, we know that, when they didn't get the test out there. There is no doubt that that happened. But there's no reason to double down and make it worse. We passed that bill on a bipartisan basis. And I got to talk to some of my colleagues and say, get this done, look what's happening. If it happens to my 52-year-old, healthy husband, it can happen to anyone.

Well, now is time to implement that bill, get the funds out, help people who are unemployed, and be really smart how we bring our country back. And all I want to do is keep focusing on the science, because once we get those tests out there, once we get close to a vaccine, we're going to be in such a better place.

BLITZER: Well said, indeed. And please pass along our best wishes to John, to your family. We know you guys have really gone through a lot though.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, not (CROSSTALK).

BLITZER: -- this consider conversation down the road.

KLOBUCHAR: Right, I want to reiterate, Wolf, it was the health care workers that deserve the best equipment that we can get and that money can buy. They're the ones that were there on the frontline taking care of him. All I could to do was --

BLITZER: And it's -- yes. I was going to say, it's so heartbreaking to hear these horrible stories from these health care workers about the lack of protective equipment that they so desperately need. These are heroes. They're going to the frontlines. They're risking their lives to save other people's lives. And all too often, we're not giving them everything that they really need. I hope that changes. Senator, thank you so much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we've got some stunning images coming into "The Situation Room" right now from Rome. They show a lone pope, Pope Francis, praying in an empty St. Peter's Square. The upcoming Holy Week and Easter services are all expected to be much of the same. Pope Francis called for the world to pray for an end to the unexpected turbulent storm, as he called it, and praised the, quote, ordinary people on the frontlines of the pandemic. We'll have that and much more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:49:35]

BLITZER: Latin America is seeing a sharp spike in cases in less than two weeks, and that's leading to a lot of fear. It could become the next hot spot. CNN's Matt Rivers is joining us live from Mexico City right now. Matt, what's the situation looking like there?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. As this outbreak has spread all around the world, those of us who live in Latin America have kind of been watching with concern but not feeling the effects ourselves. The fact is, this region just hasn't really felt the effects of this outbreak as compared to other parts of the world.

But when you look recently at the number of cases, with what's going in different countries in Latin America, there is the notion that that is swiftly starting to change.

[16:50:18]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: Well over 13,000 and counting, that's about ten times higher than it was 12 days ago, as more and more people keep dying. In Ecuador, government workers were seen fumigating streets as its case total climbs. In one coastal city, government officials removed 100 corpses from different homes in three days, according to Reuters, some who died experiencing symptoms of the virus. Curfews in place made it difficult for families to get their deceased to funeral homes.

Similar preventative measures have sprung up elsewhere. In Argentina, for example, thousands have been arrested for violating a nationwide curfew. And in panama, a ban on foreigners entering the country had stranded a cruise ship off of its coast. Four people have died on the Holland America ship "Zaandam" from unknown causes though it's now allowed to transit to Panama Canal on its way to Florida. Two people aboard have tested positive for the virus. And as of Friday, 138 more are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They pretty well confirmed along with the news that, yes, we were in a very dire situation. We're hoping that that's the end of death, but there's certainly no guarantee of that.

RIVERS: One of Latin America's most dire situation is in Brazil. It's thousands of cases and dozens of deaths are the most in the region. But even as individual cities like Rio de Janeiro have enforced stay- at-home measures emptying its famous beaches, social media accounts that support President Jair Bolsonaro have pushed a video campaign titled, "Brazil Can't Stop", as the president argues preventative measures that could hurt the economy shouldn't be used.

PRES. JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZIL (through translator): I'm sorry. Some people will die. They will die. That's life, he says. You can't stop a car factory because of traffic deaths.

PRES. ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, MEXICO: (Speaking in foreign language).

RIVERS: In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had similarly played down the threat for weeks regularly seen mingling with crowds until a few weeks ago. Though his government has taken action more recently, closing businesses and schools, and encouraging people to stay home, it's clear that some aren't listening.

Restaurants are allowed to be open and the streets are much emptier than usual, but finding people out and about isn't hard to do. Meanwhile, the number of cases in Mexico has about tripled in the last week.

We've seen this virus devastate China, then Europe, and now the United States. In Latin America, there are growing fears that this region could be next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: Now, Wolf, we don't know how bad things are going to get here in Latin America, ultimately. But the experts that we've spoken to over the last several days have said a lack of preparation, a lack of good preventative response, and also a distinct lack of good public health systems across this region really raises the possibility that things could get very bad here, very quickly. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly could, very worrisome, indeed. Matt Rivers in Mexico City, thanks for that report.

Our CNN "Heroes" are making a difference and this health care crisis is no different. Anderson Cooper introduces us to three CNN heroes doing even more in the face of the coronavirus.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: These CNN heroes are on the frontlines of the pandemic, bringing medical care and supplies to those in need, their E.R. doctors putting their lives on the line. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never been a part of a pandemic. We're seeing widespread illness. It's organized chaos, organized confusion, but we are there for a purpose.

COOPER: Bringing COVID-19 testing to the homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really important in these times to remember that we're all in this together. These are our brothers and sisters out here.

COOPER: And putting life-saving soap into the hands that need it most.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last two and a half months, we have provided over 375,000 bars of soap to people in affected countries.

COOPER: Acts of selflessness and unwavering courage from everyday heroes reminding us all that we're not in this alone.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: To see Anderson Cooper's full story on how these amazing stories are helping combat the pandemic, go to cnnheroes.com right now.

Any moment now, we're told that the president and the coronavirus task force will hold a briefing -- showing you some live pictures coming in from the rose garden. It's not going to be in the briefing room. It's going to be in the rose garden over at the White House. We'll have live coverage once it starts. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:59:39]

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and this is a special edition of "The Situation Room."

Happening now, the White house is set to hold a coronavirus task force briefing from the rose garden. It's expected to begin later this hour. It's supposed to begin now, but they've delayed it a bit. We're standing by. We'll have live coverage of that once it begins. There's a live picture coming in from the rose garden right now.